Monthly Archives: May 2017

To Take Increased Devotion: A Solemn Memorial Service

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday at the base where I serve as command Chaplain we conducted a solemn memorial service for the ninety-four sailors and soldiers from our base that have died while serving at war since September 11th 2001. I knew some of them and their families from when I was assigned to EOD Group Two from 2006-2008. As each name was read, a picture of our fallen comrade was shown, a pause followed by the tolling of a bell. The steady cadence of the names, the silence, and the bell tolling continued for each of these men and women who died all too young serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, the Horn of Africa, and other places during this war. Ninety-four names, ninety-four lives, ninety-four tolls of the bell.

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The majority of our fallen are SEALS, others in the Special Warfare Community, and EOD techs. As long as these wars continue young men and young women will continue to die and families will be left without husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers. The human cost of war cannot be minimized as we honor the fallen this Memorial Day. This is a day that we set aside to remember them, not the living. It is a day for us to remember their sacrifice and commit ourselves to as Abraham Lincoln so stated in his Gettysburg Address:

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Military, remembering friends, shipmates and veterans, US Navy, War on Terrorism

Telling the Truth is Neither Disloyal nor Treasonous 

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I find it both interesting and troubling to listen to many supporters of President Trump castigate anyone for any criticism offered about the President, sometimes going as far to say that critics are being “unfair,” “disrespectful,”or most disturbing, “disloyal” or “treasonous.” Even the President tweets out those kind of accusations on a whim.

Admittedly some forms of criticism cross boundaries and are personally insulting and disrespectful of the President. In my writings I try, even when being very critical of his policies, words, or actions, to refrain from personal insults that could be considered disrespectful to the President because I am still on active duty.  As my readers know I am a historian as well as an theologian/ethicist and when I do write about the actions of the President and his administration I do so based on careful study and comparison with historical, ethical, or legal precedents. My views are likewise informed by my education and and belief in the principles of the Enlightenment, my belief in human rights as set out in the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the French Rights of Man and the Citizen, as well as my understanding of the Anglican Christian tradition of “Scripture, Tradition, and Reason” being the foundations of faith.

But it is not disloyal or treasonous to offer criticism of policies, legislative proposals, executive orders, or actions and words of the President or his advisers that could endanger the security of the United States, its citizens, and its alliances, or potentially be unlawful.

Even so I am occasionally criticized for offering historical examples that compare the President and his most ardent supporters in an unfair way, some even calling those disrespectful. I find their double standards and lack of appreciation of irony quite fascinating as most of these people have spent the last eight years or more disparaging and disrespecting President Obama with some of the most racist, vile, contemptible, and false accusations ever made against a sitting President, while at the same time condemning others for simply repeating what the President himself has said.

I found out this week that I had a couple of students criticize some of my teaching at Gettysburg when comparing the anti-immigrant Know Nothings of the 1830s-1850s to current anti-immigrant Trump supporters and some Trump Administration Civil Rights proposals to be a throwback to Jim Crow. That is not insulting nor disrespectful, but simply valid historical criticism, but some Trump supporters are so thin-skinned that they cannot abide any criticism.

Theodore Roosevelt had to defend himself in 1918 from such criticism from the supporters of President Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt was criticizing the Wilson administration because of how badly he thought they were pursuing the war effort against Germany. For this people were castigating him. People said that newspapers should not print what Roosevelt had to say as well as “He should stand by the President” and “He should be stood before a stone wall and shot.” Roosevelt ended up writing an op-ed in the Kansas City Star in which he noted:

“The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.” 

This is exactly how I base any criticism I offer of the President, his policies, words, and actions. I heartily agree with the words of Senator Stephen A. Douglas when he battled President James Buchanan over the pro-slavery attempt to have Kansas admitted to the Union as a Slave State in 1858. Douglas said of his encounter with Buchanan: “God forbid,” I said “that I ever surrender my right to differ from a President of the United States for my own choice. I am not a tool of any President!”

Now there is a difference, I am not a Senator or elected Representative, I am an officer and must carry out the orders of the President. However, if I ever come to believe that I cannot in good conscience carry them out, or if I believe that they are un-Constitutional I will retire from the military in order to allow myself the freedom to speak out more openly. General Ludwig Beck resigned as head of the German Army in 1938 over Hitler’s aggression and his plan to attack Czechoslovakia. He noted:

“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.” 

That is my belief as well. So have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, faith, History, Military, Political Commentary

The Banality of Evil: Terrorism in Manchester


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Another day and another heinous terrorist attack on people attending a concern in Manchester, England. Over twenty were killed and many more wounded in the attack which also left the terrorist dead. Among the victims were young children, innocent by any standard.

Terrorists of all kinds share a common hatred for human beings who are not like them, people for whom they blame their condition on. It has been so since people discovered that terror, committed in the name of a religion or ideology either by state or non-state actors works. Monday’s attack by a twenty-two year old Salman Abedi who according to neighbors dressed “in traditional Islamic dress.” The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack but at present little is known about Abedi other that he was born and raised in Britain and might be of Lydian descent. His actual connections to ISIS are unknown. It appears that he deployed an Improvised Explosive Device that was loaded with explosives as well as nails, metal scraps, and screws which made it a perfect anti-personnel weapon which he set off at a time guaranteed to cause maximum casualties. His act, as are all terrorist attacks aimed at innocent non-combatants can only be described as evil. The fact that it appears to be done in the name of his Islamic God does make it any less so. It was an act of evil. But the problem is that his act will inspire other Islamists to conduct similar attacks and provide grist to those who want to blame all Muslims for the attack, provoking violence against innocent Muslims who detest and oppose the kind of attack made by Abedi. Th Islamic State claim of responsibility included the statement that the attack “was in revenge for Allah’s religion, in an endeavor to terrorize the [infidels], and in response to their transgressions against the lands of the Muslims.” In the United States fundamentalist Christian extremist Theodore Shoebat said “he feels no sympathy for these people. The people who died, the people who were injured… I really don’t care. The types of people who go to these concerts are the same people responsible for the degeneracy that you see in society…” In other words the murder of children is just as fine to self-proclaimed Christian Shoebat as it is to ISIS. Both would have fit in well with the Nazi troops who killed Jews by the millions and killed innocent children up close and personal. They are all evil and they all think that they are the righteous. 

However, it doesn’t have to be this way as historian Laurence Rees notes, we do not need to succumb to the bloodlust of revenge and retaliation. We can seek justice without victimizing other innocent people. We do not have to give in to what Hannah Arendt referred to as the banality of evil.” We have the choice as individuals as how to behave towards our fellow human beings. Rees noted: “…human behavior is fragile and unpredictable and often at the mercy of the situation. Every individual still, of course, has a choice as to how to behave, it’s just that for many people the situation is the key determinate in that choice.” The fact is that we cannot allow the situation to determine what is right and wrong in how we respond to terror and in doing so condemn the innocent along with the guilty. 

Anyone knows me knows that all terrorism is evil regardless of its motivation. Over the years I have spoken out against all types of terrorism and that I have no sympathy or desire no mercy be shown to those who commit or sponsor it, but at the same time I do not believe that we should allow fear and hatred to cause us to seek retribution or revenge upon innocent people simply because they share a common racial, religious, or national origin of the guilty. To do so makes us no different than those who kill children at a concert simply because they live in a country opposed to ISIS, or because they or their ancestors belong to a country, religion, or race that we despise or believe are less than human. 

When will we ever learn?

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under News and current events, Religion, terrorism

Papillion Therapy


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Dean Koontz wrote: “Petting, scratching, and cuddling a dog could be as soothing to the mind and heart as a deep meditation and almost as good for the soul as prayer.”

I do believe that Mr. Koonz is correct. We don’t have kids, not that we didn’t try, but we have always had dogs. Our first two dogs were Dachshunds, Frieda, a Wire Hair that we got in Germany, and Greta a smooth hair that we got in Texas. They were both great dogs and we still have a soft spot for Wiener Dogs. 


But today we are blessed to have the three best dogs in the world, Minnie Scule, Izzy Bella, and Pierre. They are all Papillons, a small breed of Spaniels from France. The breed is ranked in the top ten most intelligent breeds and they are in my view scary smart. But they are also incredibly sweet, sensitive, playful, decidedly quirky and sometimes obnoxious, in a good way.


I love spending Saturday and Sunday morning with Judy and our babies. Sometimes we sleep late and then after they have gone out to do their business just lay in bed with them, and let them play or cuddle. It is one of the most therapeutic things in the world for both of us since we both suffer from PTSD and have struggled with depression. They are so therapeutic that I often stay off the internet and social media just to enjoy them. 


Our Papillon experience began with Molly, a half-Papillon and half-Dachshund mix that we got as a rescue in September of 2001. We lost her at age 14 in May of 2015, but she was an amazing dog. Exceptionally sensitive and sweet, Judy nicknamed her “Nurse Molly” because if we were physically sick or depressed she would be there doing whatever she could to comfort us. In 2011 Molly decided that she wanted to live with me when I was stationed in North Carolina as our home in Virginia with Judy couldn’t compete with chasing deer off my lawn or running on the beach. So a few months later we got Minnie.



Now Minnie was only two and a half pounds when we got her and she became Judy’s baby. Until she got too big she would sit on Judy’s shoulder like a Parrot. Minnie is funny. She’s very smart, and sweet, but very quirky. She talks like Scooby Doo and has something to say about everything. She’s now five years old, when I walk her in the neighborhood she likes to chase the ducks, geese, and rabbits occasionally diving into the water after a duck. She’s also my drinking buddy. She loves to steal my beer and is an incorrigible thief, but we love her. She can be aloof at times and acts like she’s the Queen of the manor. Minnie grew up a bit. We thought she would be about 7-8 pounds but she topped out at 12 pounds, sometimes a bit more. She has the light bone structure of a classic Papillon and is a Black and White with the black ticking that looks like freckles and a crooked blaze that makes her almost look like a dwarf Australian Shepherd.


A couple of months before we lost Molly we got Izzy. Izzy is fascinating. She like Molly is our nurse and once when we had a friend over and he was mourning the loss of his parents, she glued herself to him trying to make him feel better. In fact it is my plan to get her certified as a therapy dog. We got Izzy at the same age we got Minnie but she was already four pounds and built like a tank. The first time our vet met her he picked her up during the examination and said “My, she’s sturdy!” Sturdy is not a word commonly associated with the breed, but Izzy is just that. Slightly smaller in height and length than Minnie she outweighs Minnie by a pound or a pound and a half. She’s built like a tank, not an ounce of fat on her, just solid muscle and bone. When she jumps on you, especially if you’re not expecting it can take the wind out of you, it’s like being blindsided by a linebacker. Izzy is a very distinctive looking Tricolor who is also incredible agile and loves to dance doing pirouettes when she wants attention.



Izzy and Minnie have been together now a bit over two years and in February we ended up getting our little boy Pierre unexpectedly. Some friends found that his owner could not afford surgery for a luxating patella. They helped arrange for us to get him and he is a joy. He’s a year old and at 4.5 pounds is about as big as he is going to get. He’s incredibly sweet, has a bit of a grumpy side when he doesn’t want to do something, and like Minnie he is talkative, and like Izzy he is incredibly playful. Despite their size difference he and Izzy play constantly and when they wrestle they grapple like MMA fighters with Pierre fighting a bit out of his weight category, but he gives as good as he gets. Sometimes when we go to bed it is time for them to launch their evening Pappy War.


Our life is better for having our puppies, they are amazing therapy. So I guess when I get home from work I’ll get greeted by the three pups and when we get back from our time out with friends we’ll have our evening play and snuggle time with Minnie, Izzy, and Pierre.

Life is good. Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Trump’s Hatchet Men: Christian Pastors Who Should Know Better

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a brief thought to start out the week. Since the beginning of the Trump Campaign his most vocal supporters other that the Alt-Right crowd and people like Roger Stone have been Christian pastors. This really bothered me all weekend so I need to get it off my chest early so I can go on to better things.

To me this has been one of the most perplexing things of the past two years. I wonder how men and women who castigated Democrats, and even some moderate Republicans with epithets often too vile to print ended up supporting a man who exhibits no trace at all of a genuine Christian faith. How they not only support but defend a man whose life if nothing else epitomizes everything that Jesus preached against, even threatening the wrath of God on Trump’s opponents.

I am not alone. Conservative columnist Erick Erickson, who is a Christian by the way noted in a column last week:

“Watergate may have turned Charles Colson from hatchet man to pastor, but defense of President Trump is turning a lot of pastors into hatchet men. Few people come away from Trump’s orbit without compromising their characters.”

Admittedly some of Trump’s big time clerical supports had little in the way of character to begin with, fleecing their flocks and often being caught doing so by law enforcement, some like Jim Bakker even going to jail. However, it is scary that quite a few who even if you disagreed with their politics, theology, or social views, still showed a modicum of Christian character have thrown it away to defend the indefensible. These hatchet men are truly dangerous because they poison the souls of their flocks and in the process demean the entirety of the Gospel message of reconciliation and peace.

But this is nothing new. Ever since Constantine various clerics and preachers have cozied up to rulers in order to gain temporal power for their part of the church. These American preachers today do not believe in the equality of human beings, they delight in condemning people, and frequently use the legislative process to impinge upon or limit the rights of others. Although they said they loved the Constitution when Barak Obama was in office their actions show that they despise it as well as the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence. Their attitudes towards the heart of American democracy are much like the Southern planters and slaveowners. One of them, George Fitzhugh of Virginia wrote in 1850:

“We must combat the doctrines of natural liberty and human equality, and the social contract as taught by Locke and the American sages of 1776. Under the spell of Locke and the Enlightenment, Jefferson and other misguided patriots ruined the splendid political edifice they erected by espousing dangerous abstractions – the crazy notions of liberty and equality that they wrote into the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Bill of Rights. No wonder the abolitionists loved to quote the Declaration of Independence! Its precepts are wholly at war with slavery and equally at war with all government, all subordination, all order. It is full if mendacity and error. Consider its verbose, newborn, false and unmeaning preamble…. There is, finally, no such thing as inalienable rights. Life and liberty are not inalienable…. Jefferson in sum, was the architect of ruin, the inaugurator of anarchy. As his Declaration of Independence Stands, it deserves the appropriate epithets which Major Lee somewhere applies to the thought of Mr. Jefferson, it is “exuberantly false, and absurdly fallacious.”

Southern preachers condemned opponents of slavery in the abolition movement, including fellow evangelicals as “atheists, infidels, communists, free-lovers, Bible-haters, and anti-Christian levelers.”  Like the Southern preachers of the ante-bellum era the political pastors of today stand against the weak, the outcast, the poor, and the alien. Instead of standing for the weak, these preachers lead their congregations to despise them as they accommodate themselves to the service of the powerful represented by President Trump. Dietrich Bonhoeffer summed it up well when wrote about the “German Christians” who followed Hitler:

“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.”

The sad thing is that the so-called Christianity of our day is not far removed from that of the ante-bellum South or that of Nazi Germany. It worships power and riches and the only rights that it desires to protect are its own. Led by the hatchet men in the pulpits this church have soiled themselves with a stain that they will never shed, and they will stand condemned even more than the man that they support, because unlike him, they know better, or at least they should. 

Conservative scion Barry Goldwater warned us about them in 1994: 

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

But Goldwater also knew that the leaders of the Christian Right who now are solidly behind Trump were easily manipulated by the hard right. In 1981 he told an interviewer:

“I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form. It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.”

Donald Trump is manipulating the hell out of them, speaking to their deepest fears and promising them that they will be the ones that come out on top in his America. He has cultivated that by signing executive orders designed to cater to their every desire in exchange for their fealty which they readily give him. He is a nearly cult like messiah figure to many of them and their preachers bask in the favor he shows them without thinking twice about the true cost both to their faith, and the freedom of all people in the United States. 

Charles Morgan Jr., a lawyer in Birmingham Alabama wrote after the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church by Ku Klux Klansmen who claimed to be Christians and by the Christian preachers who over the course of decades had given them sanction:

“It is not by great acts but by small failures that freedom dies. . . . Justice and liberty die quietly, because men first learn to ignore injustice and then no longer recognize it.”

He was right, as was Bonhoeffer.  So anyway, that’s a hell of a way to start the week.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, faith, History, ministry, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes: Thoughts on Friendships Enduring Friendships

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

With these changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes Nothing remains quite the same; With all of my running and all of my cunning If I couldn’t laugh I just would go insane; If we couldn’t laugh we just would go insane, If we weren’t all crazy we would go insane

Jimmy Buffet: Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

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I had the good fortune to be able to see the Jimmy Buffet concert here on Thursday night and that was followed up Friday by the visit of an old friend who had a great influence on my early Navy career as my detailer, and who as a retired contract Priest at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth was there for me during some of my darkest times after my return from Iraq. It was good to see Father Fred Elkin, a wonderful Priest, friend, and confidant. I also met a new friend, an Army Reserve Chaplain doing some of his training over at Fort Story. Last week I had a long telephone conversation with one of my old enlisted shipmates who served on the boarding time that I served on in the Persian Gulf back in 2002. It is really nice to have those experiences, to have a life, and to interact with people face to face.

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I took off for a weekend last month Just to try and recall the whole year; All of the faces and all of the places; Wonderin’ where they all disappeared I didn’t ponder the question too long; I was hungry and went out for a bite Ran into a chum with a bottle of rum; And we wound up drinkin all night

I find that it is all too easy to miss simple things like that, all too easy to become too busy to keep those friendships and find new ones as well. I hate losing friends too. Over the years I’ve lost my share and some of them were due to by own negligence or stupidity and others for reasons that I don’t understand, but I’ve lost more over politics in the past year and a half than I could have ever imagine, again at least a of these were of my doing, mostly for self-protect in the toxic political climate, but then others I just don’t know, but that’s life too.

Of course there are the friends that die too early and often unexpectedly. I have had too many of those lately, and as I look through my various picture albums I remember the good things about them even as I still feel the pangs of grief at their loss. I cherish their memory and pray that one day we will meet again.

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Even so I find particular value in long term friendships and relationships that have endured the years, one of which goes back to 5th grade. Others, schoolmates, military friends, veterans, teachers, others who I have worked, attended church, marched for civil rights, or imbibed heavily of adult beverages with over the years mean so much to me. I guess that’s one reason that Buffet’s Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes speaks to me. Over the years all of us have grown up and changed, we aren’t the same as we were when we first met each other because of life and our experiences, but we’re still friends.

Reading departure signs in some big airport; Reminds me of the places I’ve been Visions of good times that brought so much pleasure, Makes me want to go back again; If it suddenly ended tomorrow I could somehow adjust to the fall; Good times and riches and son of a bitches I’ve seen more than I can recall

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Some of these folks and I have gone through tremendously difficult times together; we’ve faced career crises, health issues, deployments, family separations, lived in the field, and in combat conditions facing danger, coming home to changed family situations, facing physical injury, and the craziness that is part of dealing with PTSD, TBI, and chronic sleep disorders. I have a friend going through chemotherapy for stage-four lymphoma, and others who have recently gone through life threatening health crises. The cool thing is that we are friends and that we have stood by each other. We can disagree about politics, religion, and so many things that destroy other friendships. I am reminded of what William Tecumseh Sherman said of his friendship with Ulysses S. Grant, “Grant stood by me when I was crazy, I stood by him when he was drunk, now we stand together.”

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I think about Paris when I’m high on red wine I wish I could jump on a plane; So many nights I just dream of the ocean God; I wish I was sailin’ again; Oh, yesterday’s over my shoulder So I can’t look back for too long; There’s just too much to see waiting in front of me And I know that I just can’t go wrong

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The good thing is that life continues and friendships do as well and if I can speak for myself, if I couldn’t laugh and I weren’t crazy I would go insane.

So until tomorrow,

Peace and friendship,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, remembering friends

Remembering Those Who Helped Make Us Who We Are

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Historian David McCullough wrote something that I think is all too easy to forget in a world where many people, including our current President seem to think that everything is about them. McCullough wrote:

“We are all what we are, in large degree, because of others who have helped, coached, taught, counseled, who set a standard by example, who’ve taken an interest in our interests, opened doors, opened our minds, helped us see, who gave encouragement when we needed it, who reprimanded or prodded when we needed it, and at critical moments, inspired.”

When I look back at my own life I see the tremendous impact of how others, family, teachers, coaches, pastors, people who I have served alongside or under the command of in the military, as well as just simple people who knew me and cared enough to put an arm around my shoulder, offer an encouraging word, piece of wisdom, of maybe even a observation that wasn’t comfortable to hear, have helped make me what I am today. In fact there are so many of them that it would be almost impossible to list them all, and as we come up on Memorial Day next week I tend to become a bit melancholy thinking about those military personnel who impacted my life and mourning those who have passed on. I have written about many of them and probably will do so again over the coming months, not only the military people but the others, if for no other reason to ensure that they are not forgotten and to remember that everything in life doesn’t have to be about what is going on in the news cycle.

Even so it is humbling to know that if all of these people had not been part of my life that I would not be who I am today.

So anyway, if I can say anything to anyone today, try to remember the people who have helped you become what you are.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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